AMERIPEN, a material-neutral trade association for the packaging industry, is focused on the intersection of packaging policy and the environment. It also educates the industry on the value of packaging. In this Q&A, Packaging World speaks with AMERIPEN Executive Director Dan Felton and the association’s Principal Lobbyist, Andy Hackman, of Serlin Haley, about current and future packaging policy.
After a decade of on-and-off dialogue, this past year two states passed producer responsibility programs for packaging. Can you tell us a little more about what packaging companies can expect, and is there more to come?
We now have two states—Maine and Oregon—with packaging producer responsibility laws on the books. As of right now, packaging producers will start paying into these systems in three to four years—Oregon in mid-2025 and Maine in late-2026. In both laws, packaging producers are generally defined as brand owners first, followed by brand/trademark licensees or owners, and then importers of covered packaging into the states. But Oregon’s law defines producers more precisely to clearly capture products coming into the state via e-commerce and therefore may have a more obvious impact on e-commerce retailers and on packaging manufacturers participating in that space with their own branded packaging.
We anticipate that at least 10 to 12 additional states will consider packaging producer responsibility legislation in 2022, and from that, we could expect at least a couple more states to enact something into law during the year. AMERIPEN is already and will continue to be deeply involved in the discussions and negotiations in these states to help shape the best possible outcomes for packaging companies.
Is there a possibility of a federal packaging producer responsibility bill?
Hackman: Two bills that include packaging producer responsibility language have already been introduced into the current session of Congress: the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act (BFPPA) and the CLEAN Future Act. BFPPA, in many respects an “anti-plastic” bill, includes language to establish a national packaging producer responsibility program. CLEAN, a broader climate change action bill, carries many provisions from BFPPA, including language to establish a taskforce to study the possibility of a national packaging producer responsibility program.
It’s unclear at this time how much traction either of these bills, including their packaging producer responsibility language, may gain in 2022 given other priorities in Congress, such as the federal budget and appropriations. It’s possible some other elements of both bills could gain some standalone traction in 2022, but we do believe there is merit in the packaging industry engaging at the federal level, or across multiple states at the regional level, on packaging producer responsibility to avoid a patchwork of onerous state laws with different requirements placed upon packaging companies and owners.
Plastic packaging has been playing a significant role in federal discussions with the passage of Save our Seas 1.0 and 2.0 and the RECYCLE Act, the bills mentioned above, and now discussions on a virgin resin tax. What do you see as the future of federal engagement in packaging policy?
Hackman: AMERIPEN supported inclusion of the RECYCLE Act and funding for Save our Seas 2.0 implementation in the federal infrastructure package and was pleased to see these two items remain in the final INVEST Act, signed into law in mid-November. This will provide $350 million in much needed grant funding to states and municipalities to help strengthen municipal recycling programs and increase consumer recycling education. All this bodes well for helping to increase packaging recycling and recovery and could be the foundation for additional work at the federal level.
Felton: AMERIPEN has also been an active supporter of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) America Recycles Network and is encouraged by several components in their National Recycling Strategy released in mid-November, including a focus on data collection, standardizing definitions related to recycling, and end-market development for recycled materials. This ties in very well with a national packaging strategy AMERIPEN has been working on with its members during the second half of 2021 that should be released in early 2022. We have been examining policy opportunities across the packaging value chain, as well as what we anticipate for the future of packaging, to advance further discussion by policymakers that goes beyond packaging’s end-of-life to also contemplate opportunities for things like design, raw material development, and product protection.
As mentioned earlier, it appears there will also be ample additional opportunities for packaging manufacturers and owners to engage with Congress in the coming months and years on packaging policy, whether more narrowly and punitively focused on specific materials (e.g., the virgin plastic resin tax) or more broadly focused on packaging recycling, recyclability labeling, increased recovery, and end-market development.
Labeling was an emerging issue in 2021 after California passed a bill restricting recycling messaging on packaging and other products within the state. What are the implications of this, and can we expect more legislation or labeling changes as a result?
Felton: AMERIPEN did not support California SB 343 as it was passed and enacted into law, due to serious concerns that it creates state-specific standards for what is considered recyclable at curbside or through alternative collection methods (i.e., store drop-off) and will result in increased consumer confusion and additional packaging material going to landfill, and because it conflicts with state laws in nearly 30 other states into which packaging manufacturers and owners sell their products. We expect at least four to six additional states to consider similar policy in 2022, potentially further exacerbating the confusion and conflict we see with California’s new law.
We believe there may be opportunities to pursue some federal uniformity around this issue, as the EPA and the FTC could be forums for efforts to establish national definitions and labeling language. This is also a topic of legislative interest, as labeling language is also included in the BFPPA and CLEAN bills, previously mentioned.
|Read Felton's column on four packaging-related bills in Congress.|
Recycled-content mandates seemed to be a big issue in 2021. What’s happening there, and how should packaging producers be planning for increased recycled content?
Felton: Following California’s new beverage container recycled-content mandate law in 2020, Washington State signed similar legislation into law in 2021, although broader in scope, to include beverage containers, household and personal care products, and bags. Washington State may look to expand that law in 2022 after a stakeholder process is completed as required under their new law, to make recommendations to the legislature on additional plastic packaging recycled-content mandates. Furthermore, New Jersey is positioned to have a new law on the books mandating recycled content for rigid plastic containers, plastic takeout containers, and plastic and paper bags.
With additional states anticipated to consider recycled-content mandates in 2022, the BFPPA and CLEAN bills already including related language, and some within the plastics industry signaling a willingness to adopt certain recycled-content levels by certain dates, this issue is only likely to intensify over the coming year.
Packaging producers, in collaboration with packaging owners, should join AMERIPEN with a seat at the table now to help shape legislative and regulatory outcomes that are achievable and reasonable and that recognize that “one size” probably doesn’t fit all (e.g., food-contact packaging may need special considerations).
This past year, AMERIPEN has become more engaged in recycling market development. Can you tell us more about your efforts here and why this is an issue that is relevant to a packaging policy association?
Felton: In 2020, we established our State Recycling Market Development Taskforce, a unique entity within AMERIPEN in that it is made up of all non-AMERIPEN members; rather they are state and regional recycling market development professionals. The goal has been for AMERIPEN to collaborate with these experts to help advance end markets for packaging materials. As a product of this collaboration, in March of 2021 we released a study examining corporate packaging goals and demand for post-consumer recycled (PCR) content against available supply and capacity. Then in September, in partnership with Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), we released the first available best practices guide for the development of state recycling market development centers. As state and federal policymakers are clearly addressing issues related to recycled content and end-market development, our taskforce has found value in the collaboration between the packaging and state recycling market development industries, and we are looking forward to announcing some really exciting new related initiatives in 2022.
|Read related article, "EPA Gains Major Momentum"|
Any there any other packaging policy considerations our readers should know about for 2022?
Hackman: For the last several years, we have seen specific package or single-use product bans and restrictions proliferate in state legislatures, and we expect that trend to continue in 2022. While these bans do not impact brand owners and packaging producers equally across product sectors, they are tangible issues that policymakers are likely to continue to latch onto and seek to advance in 2022.
Additionally, we expect there to be increased policy on toxic materials in packaging, as interest from policymakers in certain chemicals like PFAS and phthalates in packaging grew in 2021. We expect that trend to continue, and an increased awareness of materials within the supply chain is likely to be necessary as these laws begin to come online in states like Maine and Vermont in the years to come.